Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Of the three leading Lutheran organizations operating in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is considered the most welcoming and inclusive of LGBT members. Formed in 1988 with the merger of three smaller Lutheran organizations, the ELCA is based in Chicago and encompasses nearly 10,000 congregations and 4 million members across the country.
Churchwide Assemblies are held every three years, with elected representatives establishing policy and addressing the concerns of the larger church body. As stated on the denomination’s web site, the Churchwide Assembly “provides a time and place for growth and change while remaining rooted in Scripture, tradition, Lutheran confessions and the rich histories of our congregations and communities.”
In 1991, the Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution stating that,
"Gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."
Today, church programs include summer camps and homeless shelters for LGBT youth, and pastor participation in the “It Gets Better” campaign. However, there are no inclusion policies specific to transgender persons.
On Marriage Equality
While the Churchwide Assembly has not come to agreement on the issue of marriage equality, the ongoing debate has prompted a policy that gives autonomy to individual ministers and their congregations, resulting in the celebration of same-sex marriages at many ELCA churches across the country.
LGBT ministers have been ordained by the ELCA since 2010. However, church policy, like that for same-sex marriage, gives individual congregations autonomy in calling ministers to serve. Women have been ordained in the church since its founding in 1988, and were ordained in the Lutheran churches that formed the ELCA beginning in 1970. The ELCA’s current presiding bishop is Rev. Elizabeth Eaton.
The ELCA supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, sharing a commitment to “legislation, referendums and policies to protect the civil rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services and accommodations.” In 2013, The ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to “encourage all ELCA synods, congregations, and members to add their voices in support of legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The ELCA is in the midst of a discernment process in which members hold widely divergent views around the issues of marriage and ordination. Church leadership has given individual congregations the freedom to make their own choices in these areas. ReconcilingWorks, an independent Lutheran organization recognized by the churchwide body and “understood as working compatibly with [churchwide] programs” and “fulfilling or enhancing particular work for the overall life of the denomination,” has created a network of inclusive communities with the potential to inspire further change. LGBT Lutherans and their allies stand at a pivotal point in the ELCA’s growth, with the next Churchwide Assembly scheduled for August 2016.
For more information on finding your place as an LGBT congregant, or on finding your voice as a straight ally committed to creating an inclusive church community, download the HRC resource Coming Home: To Faith, To Spirit, to Self.
Resources for LGBT Lutherans
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) expands ministry opportunities for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders who are changing the through their ministry.
ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation is a nationa organization that advocates for the full inclusion of LGBT Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations.
ELCA Churchwide Ministries
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631